The Penumbra of the Empty, Part XVII
Though the results of this Enlightenment task of separation are "mixed", it is evident that something was divided from something--something was partitioned, however it is we understand "something" or "partition." What happened is confusing. How do we know what happened isn't similar to what happened in Borges' Chinese encyclopedia?
"This book first arose out of a passage in Borges, out of the laughter that shattered, as I read the passage, all the familiar landmarks of my thought--our thought, the thought that bears the stamp of our age and our geography--breaking up all the ordered surfaces and all the planes with which we are accustomed to tame the wild profusion of existing things, and continuing long afterwards to disturb and threaten with collapse our age-old distinction between the Same and the Other. This passage quotes a 'certain Chinese encyclopaedia' in which it is written that 'animals are divided into: (a) belonging to the Emperor, (b) embalmed, (c) tame, (d) sucking pigs, (e) sirens, (f) fabulous, (g) stray dogs, (h)included in the present classification, (i)frenzied,(j)innumerable,(k)drawn with a very fine camelhair brush, (l) et cetera, (m)having just broken the water pitcher, (n) that from a long way off look like flies'. In the wonderment of this taxonomy, the thing we apprehend in one great leap, the thing that, by means of the fable, is demonstrated as the exotic charm of another system of thought, is the limitation of our own, the stark impossibility of thinking that."-- Michel Foucault, preface of The Order of Things: an Archeology of the Human SciencesThe passage from Borges' Chinese encyclopedia provokes Foucault's laughter, but also shatters his thinking. How could Foucault consider Borges' whimsical categorizations a challenge to the Enlightenment's serious categorizations?
What if what was changed for the sake of peace, sanity, happiness, and progress changed the very meanings and experience of peace, sanity, happiness, and progress? In the event that the meanings and experience of these was mysteriously altered, was the promise of the Enlightenment kept, or lost, or deferred--deferred as the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow is deferred?
Illustration from Lori Nix Photography